Maricopa County to Pay $3.5 Million for Botched Sheriff's Office Rape Investigation

Sheriff Joe Arpaio (right) at a December 2011 news conference about the mishandled sexual-assault cases.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio (right) at a December 2011 news conference about the mishandled sexual-assault cases.

Maricopa County will pay $3.5 million for one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's mishandled rape investigations.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Wednesday to approve the settlement for a Valley family who sued in Superior Court over the botched case.

The case of Sabrina Morrison was one of hundreds of sexual-assaults that didn't receive a proper investigation from the Sheriff's Office in the mid-2000s, when Arpaio was focusing on immigrant roundups and his ethically corrupt anti-corruption task force.

See also: -Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish -Joe Arpaio's Shame: KPHO Interviews Rape Victim Sabrina Morrison

The $3.5 million comes on top of more than $10 million paid out in lawsuits related to Arpaio's bungling just over the last few years.

Though the names of rape victims aren't usually published in news articles, Sabrina Morrison and her family contacted the media in 2012 to bring attention to the widespread failures at the MCSO. Sabrina gave interviews to various news outlets. Her tragic story was made far worse by the agency's failure to do basic police work.

In 2007, Sabrina's uncle, Patrick Morrison, raped the developmentally disabled girl -- then 13 -- in her home. Nobody believed her after detectives told her family no evidence of a rape had been discovered. But a year later, the state Department of Public Safety informed the MCSO that semen had been found at the scene of the alleged assault.

The Sheriff's Office didn't follow up until 2011, after Arpaio was taking a beating in the press over the scandal. By then, Sabrina's uncle had abused her several more times.

In 2012, Patrick Morrison was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the crime.

No other victim from the scandal has sued the county so far, says county spokesman Richard De Uriarte.

That could change, though, especially now that victims see somebody getting justice.

Hundreds of poorly investigated cases came from the small, west-side town of El Mirage, which had been policed by the Sheriff's Office from 2005 to 2007 following problems with the town's police force. Deputy Chief Frank Munnell detailed the scandal in his 63-page memo to Sheriff Arpaio that contained a litany of complaints. The office re-opened numerous cases, finding that more than 500 had been mishandled. While some of the sexual-assault reports were likely invalid, many weren't. The news media, including New Times, found several disturbing cases in which apparently legitimate rape accusations were pushed to the side by a staff overloaded with work that, in retrospect, seems trivial.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice tied the scandal to the systemic discrimination of Hispanics going on in the department.

"Faced with such an increase in crime and the risk of harm presented by unaddressed sexual assaults, a law enforcement agency ordinarily would be expected to prioritize more serious offenses, such as crimes of sexual violence, over less serious offenses, such as low-level immigration offenses," the Justice Department's May 2012 report on the MCSO states.

Of course, the MCSO is no ordinary law-enforcement agency.

An investigation into the overall problem was stalled for political reasons. No one at the agency was ever disciplined.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern.


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